About Philip Whitfield

ID aims to be the leading resource for knowledge of Egypt's social, political and economic life after the Jan 25 revolution. We are an impartial unbiased source of facts and commentary.

One Man, one vote, one time

Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: You’d die to be immortalized by a zinger, wouldn’t you? Like Ed Djerejian’s after Islamists and pro-democracy groups fell out in Algeria — condemning 30 million to decades of misery, penury and slaughter. Some counted 200,000 corpses. The killing doesn’t stop 21 years on.

That North African torment began with Morsy-like expressions of benignity — shades of Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe, who conned Margaret Thatcher into believing he was a democrat to befriend.

‘It is a very special pleasure for me to be on the soil of Zimbabwe this evening (March 28 1989),’ she smiled, waving a handbag at the crowd. ‘We’re looking forward to seeing some of the many schemes which you have done so magnificently during your great years of independence.’

I bet she’d dearly pay to edit that out of her bibliography. Mugabe shrugged off allegations of mass murdering tens of thousands. But countless African dictators artfully pulled the wool over others’ eyes, often citing Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s president from 1961 to 1985 that democracy was a destabilizing detraction.

Idi Amin (Uganda 1971 to1979) changed his moniker after winning his election to His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire/Congo 1965 to 1997) amassed billions of dollars of foreign cash. ‘Can anyone tell me that he has ever known a village that has two chiefs?’ he crowed.

To his name he added Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga meaning the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake. None of which saved him from ignominy. Laurent Kabila overthrew him, presiding over the deaths of three million before one of his bodyguards assassinated him.

Ed Djerejian was the go-to-guy for a heads up. One Man, One Vote, One Time came from his lips, a man whose wise counsel served every American president since Ronald Reagan struggling to unmesh the Middle East conundrum. His foreign assignments included Beirut and Casablanca, Amman, Moscow during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Israel as ambassador.

Now in his 70s he’s one of the most decorated diplomats you’ll meet, his advice sought as much now as ever. So, what did Djerejian mean when Algeria’s strongmen did what Morsy appears to have done? Damned democracy and fled from freedom.

Djerejian was making an authorized speech as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs describing the purported goals of Islamic radicals. Until Iranian Islamist fanatics stormed the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, the US relied on rhetoric, describing fundamental Islam’s ‘revolutionary and sometimes violent nature,’ as well as its ‘ideology of an extreme nature,’ and Iran as a ‘messianic, radical state.’

In 1991 when Algeria voted for the Islamique du Salut (FIS) following fundamentalist election victories in Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait, the US did what diplomats do in a crisis. They dithered on the fence waiting to see what would happen next.

Algeria was on the cusp of a military coup. Would the military step in and void a fundamentalist election victory? If so, would the US play footsy with the generals as in Pakistan and Egypt?

At Meridian House in Washington DC on June 2 1992 Djerejian outlined the U.S. government’s first statement on fundamentalist Islam. Shifting away from Reagan’s confrontational approach Djerejian portrayed Islamic fundamentalists as ‘seeking to reform their societies in keeping with Islamic ideals.’

He said those who are prepared to take specific steps toward free elections, creating independent judiciaries, promoting the rule of law, reducing restrictions on the press, respecting the rights of minorities, and guaranteeing individual rights would find America ready to recognize and support their efforts, just as those moving in the opposite direction would discover America speaking candidly and acting accordingly.

Djerejian tempered his commitment to free elections: ‘We are suspect of those who would use the democratic process to come to power, only to destroy that very process in order to retain power and political dominance.’

Djerejian said that while the US believed in the principle of One Man, One Vote America did not support One Man, One Vote, One Time. Yet he reached for a fig leaf to hide his blushes — US pragmatism towards dictators when strategic and economic advantage outweighed ethical and moral considerations.

He glossed over the choice between fundamentalist Islam and autocratic rule, and between democratic principles and status-quo pragmatism. What he did, though, was to stake out a terrain that Morsy would do well to survey, America’s definition of the characteristics of extremist groups:

(1) Those who are insensitive to the need for political pluralism. (2) Those who cloak their message in another brand of authoritarianism. (3) Those who substitute religious and political confrontation for constructive engagement. (4) Those who do not share a commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. (5) Those who would pursue their goals through repression or violence — the benchmarks adopted by secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, foreign secretaries including William Hague and sundry EU visitors.

So why is Morsy assigning himself absolute powers?  Is it part of the bargain made with President Obama to nudge Palestinians towards coexistence? Hardly. Morsy is smarter than that. He knows Israel will snuff out any meaningful dialogue. Or is a whiff of cordite in the Cairo air? Is he preempting SCAF sabre rattling? The generals can’t be pleased with the way the constitutional dialogue is going. Surely we haven’t heard the last from them? But the military pick fights they can win, not ones that jeopardize their pension pots.

Has Morsy figured out tinkering with taxes will neither salve the liberals’ ire nor middle class mopes. They’ll yank him out of office the first chance they get. Promises to engulf the nation in a tsunami of value added tax mumbo jumbo might keep the IMF and some Euro lenders sweet. Drowning the nation in VAT is suicidal, best left to a parliament who’ll kick that can down Kasr El Aini Street.

What could save Morsy? Something that aligns him with religious and secular, left and right, radical and conservative, East and West, the rich and the poor. And satisfies Ambassador Edward Djerejian, when he explains how One Man, One Vote, One Time can be accommodated briefly on the path to freedom and democracy.

Djerejian says it must be‘Thepursuit of viable economic and social development programs, privatization and adequate educational and vocational training.’

Not catchy enough to be memorable, but sufficient to satisfy the jobless, young and poor demonstrating in Tahrir Square and at the palace gates. In other words: a vision, not a shopping list for half-baked Mubarak tripe. Further reading: A roadmap to dig Egypt out. The Wealth of Nations was the first political economics tome written by the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith in 1776, and still in print.

Drop by AUC Press or Diwan bookstore. Five bucks and change on Amazon.com


Blue light special

Philip Whitfield

April 23 2012

ASSUIT: K-Mart introduced the phrase to a generation of Americans — the moment when a flashing police lamp announces a surprise special offer in a store, entering the lexicon in films such as Troop Beverlyå Hills, Beetlejuice and Dawn of the Dead.

Egypt’s blue light special moment came the day before the sandstorm hit. Thousands and thousands of shoppers engulfed a phenomenon that opened its doors in downtown Assuit. They came from miles around, professors and students from the two universities nearby, moms and dads, some pushing strollers, generations led by grannies. Singles, all out for fun on the town.

The object of their ecstasy? A grocery store that’s become a cult in Egypt  — Kheir Zaman, Metro’s discount store chain that offers 25 percent savings on food basics such as rice, pasta, eggs and milk, all own-brands that are shaking up the nation’s food-purchasing marketplace.

The spacious store is the 33rd Kheir Zaman in Egypt and is breaking all records. Within a few hours the tills had registered more than LE 100,000, beating well-entrenched Metro stores in places such as Mohandessin by a long chalk.

By 10 pm there were 800 pouring over the shelves. At Midnight a new crowd surged in and stayed on shopping until 3 am. Operations manager Ahmed Fouad sent out an SOS to the central bakery for more dough to bake more batches of bread in the two-deck over upstairs.

The company’s president Mohanad Adly hopped on to the next plane to Assuit, which turned out to be the last one to leave the sand clouded runway. He was reading a printout: LE 8,049.97 at 10 pm. Another 204 customers at 11 pm spending LE 22,846. By 3 am 2,100 shopping baskets and about 8,000 people in all, had passed through the checkouts registering LE 92,000 and change.

By the time Adly arrived another LE 36,000 had been rung up. Never seen anything like it before, he said congratulating 90 new members of staff, almost all of them local university graduates, picked by the ineffable Hanan Houseen, the staff services manager, who had waded through 700 applications and interviewed 400 with Aliaa Salama from the HR department.

They’re absolutely the best you could find anywhere in the world, they said.

It wouldn’t be Egypt if SCAF and officialdom hadn’t engaged in skullduggery. Adly had picked the spot for his second store in Upper Egypt three years ago — the first to open was in Luxor.

The owner of these coveted 1,200 square meters, Dr. Ali Sabra, a doctor whose family runs a well-known chain of pharmacies in Cairo, said when the previous governor of Assuit heard about such a prestigious company coming, he asked for a LE 3 million donation to grease his political campaign. Sabra refused.

Incensed by being asked to pay a bribe to sell toiletries and groceries, Adly dashed off letters, one to Hosni Mubarak. He heard nothing, until a few nights later, watching a TV interview, he saw Mubarak being asked if he’d like to say Hello to anyone? Mubarak responded: I’d like to say Hello to the Governor of Assuit.

I knew the store was nixed, he told me. We pulled the equipment out and put the plan on hold.

With Mubarak on trial and a change of governor, word came that the store would be bribe-free. Dr. Sabra was inundated with offers to take it. I said Kheir Zaman should have the first option and they came back, he said. We paid the normal fees for permits, about LE 315,000, and everything was fine. No bribes. No baksheesh whatsoever.

The shenanigans, which were kept secret, doesn’t explain the phenomenal crowds flocking to the store since last Tuesday’s soft opening and the official opening in the sandstorm next day.

Dr. Osama Nadifi, from Assuit, was filling a trolley. We’ve never had such fresh food at such low prices in such a hygienic environment, he said. For example the other butchers in town sell frozen Brazilian beef, which you can get here as well. But on top of that you can get fresh lamb and veal as well as beef…that’s a big draw.

Also it’s the first food and household items supermarket in town.

Mahmoud Saif brought his wife and their new four-month-old baby to shop. They were impressed. Ouama Nafidi, a big wig in the local community, shopping with her pals, was full of praise.

Dr. Sabra said about 4 million people shop in Assuit. They have to be careful with their money. Nobody expected these incredible scenes, he said. Assuit is a quiet place. But not today. We’re celebrating something very special, the opportunity to enjoy quality and prices the rest if the country has.

Not quite the rest of the country. Metro and Kheir Zaman are in 11 of the 27 governorates. Kheir Zaman now has 33 stores in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Port Said, Mansoura, Hurghada, Luxor and Assiut

Together, Metro and Kheir Zaman will have 92 stores before the end of the year, 8,000 employees having built the largest food retail network in Egypt. We’ll be here for the next generation and the ones after that, Adly says, proud of his staff’s accomplishments.

We’re in Egypt for the long haul. I’ve letters from all over the country asking for stores in their towns and cities.

Growth is not without some shady deals by competitors. Apparently with lax security and blind eyes at the customs, dodgy food is turning up even on some of the nation’s prestigious brand-name stores.

Cans of tuna for example. These products don’t carry the white labels in Arabic that prove the products have been authenticated and tested at Egyptian government labs. Some of the stuff being sold by our competitors is rubbish, he says. You have no idea what you’re eating. I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot barge pole.

On the other hand, he says, when I was in our new Metro store in Giza I saw a tin of tuna selling for LE 49 alongside the regular tuna that retails around LE 6 to LE 7, so I bought it for my own family. Turned out to be pure white tuna fish. Delicious.

Discriminating Arab diplomats have marked out the Giza Metro, opposite the zoo, for late night shopping. Spotting the shelves being loaded up for the opening, one Arab ambassador took his entourage on a Harrods-style spree, spending LE 5,000 piling up a train of baskets at the checkout.

Seems blue light specials are popular with everyone, no matter how much housekeeping’s in the budget.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

The cat’s out of the bag

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

April 18 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: The presidential election hangs on a thread. America had its chads, those niggly punch cards counted and recounted to give Bush his win in 2000. Egypt has its SPEC, the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission adjudicating candidates’ credentials.

On the positive side, the judges appear to be asserting their independence and impartiality. The negative impact is that two large blocks of voters might be denied their champions.

Either way, we were given a fascinating peep into the minds of Egypt’s voters a couple of hours before SPEC dashed the hopes of 10 contenders.

On Saturday evening Al-Masry al-Youm published online an opinion poll that showed Omar Suileman leading the field with 20 percent. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh was neck-and-neck with the Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail on 12 percent and the Brotherhood’s Khairat Al-Shater registered a meager 3 percent.

Amr Mussa’s charge had run out of gas with 6.4 percent.

If opinion polls are a fair indication of the nation’s mood, it could be showing the former regime being rehabilitated in the minds of many, preferring a firm hand on the tiller.

If the candidates’ appeals fail, the strongman won’t be Suileman, just as Ismail will be denied an opportunity to give Egypt a Salafi ultra-conservative president.

Is anything being missed? Probably lots.

For a start between dictatorship and democracy lies a hybrid regime, according to an eminent Middle East expert who forecast correctly in Egypt after Mubarak (Princeton University Press) — essential reading as the chips fall into place. Bruce Rutherford, Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern & Islamic Civilization Studies at Colgate University published his thesis in 2007.

What seems abstruse is explained as a perfidious political ploy used by crumbling regimes all over the world. Rutherford cites a study by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way (The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism) that shows only 14 out of 37 hybrid democracies transitioned to democracy.

Hybrid regimes survive by adopting three strategies. They release some political prisoners and allow some competition (a.k.a. parliamentary and presidential elections). They adjust the power of the state’s institutions, security (e.g. returning soldiers to their barracks) and by fiddling around with the public sector, subsidies and the media (i.e. end privatization, increase bureaucrats’ wages and subsidies and kick out truculent editors).

Given their backgrounds, neither Suileman nor Moussa would likely challenge the hybrid status quo, which gives SCAF ample space to practice authoritarianism.

Neither could we have expected much democratic reform from El-Shater or Ismail. Both subordinate common law to shari’a, which holds the Qur’an as the unchallengeable guide and the sunnah, the sayings and actions of the Prophets. Interpreting these in the changed circumstances of today is the challenge. Both side with reactionaries.

That opens the door for the remaining candidates to draw up election platforms that respect the will of the people, as they see it. According to the latest opinion poll, the people appear to want a president that responds to everyday needs rather than dogma. It’s a fine point and one that requires careful articulation.

Let’s return to Dr. Rutherford’s book. The game changer was 9-11. The Middle East’s autocrats could no longer guarantee America’s security and strategic and economic interests. Suffocating conditions produced a large pool of frustrated, hopeless and angry young men yearning for greater dignity and purpose in their lives.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said pursuing stability and security at the expense of democracy in the Middle East had achieved neither. The new course was to support the democratic aspirations of all.

The US pumped $400 million into the Middle East Partnership Initiative to make elections fairer, support civil society groups, strengthen judiciaries and improve women’s rights. USAID for the region went from $27 million to $105 million.

The initiative didn’t work. Plan A helped young people to mobilize and bring down Mubarak. The unforeseen consequences were the Muslim Brotherhood’s belated arrival in Tahrir Square, the rise of the Salafis and the resilience of the regime’s holdovers.

When it became clear Mohamed El Baradei’s effort to lead the democrats was going nowhere, Plan B was dusted off: return to a hybrid with a different bloom. Hybrid’s mix of autocratic and democratic institutions is a gray zone of semi-democratization. Free elections take place, but seldom transfer power.

You might be wondering why SCAF allowed the economy to be reduced to rubble and foreign reserves to dwindle to almost nothing? The answer lies in the hybrid model, according to Rutherford and a raft of academic sources he cites. In similar straits, hybrid dictators get away with murder once people are conditioned to think it’s unpatriotic to demand workers’ and women’s rights. Human rights fall by the wayside.

In Africa, Asia and Latin America dictators pile on their people citing the need for rebuilding fragile economies bequeathed by their predecessors. Not only dictators. It’s the argument used by David Cameron and his Conservatives in Britain and the Germans lording over the economies of Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Egypt has other options. First up are the neighbors: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Guess what? They’re not going to lend much to a democratic Egypt. That would encourage their dissidents to rebel.

Egypt is cozying up to the biggest hybrid of them all. China is busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest in Africa these days. Trade between China and Egypt reached nearly $9 billion last year, 26 percent up on the year before.

China craves access to the Eastern Mediterranean’s huge natural gas fields off Egypt’s coastline. Last week the US aid pooper Fayza Aboul Naga signed up for $19 million aid from China and $5 million to build a park in Luxor.

They want an Egyptian president who’ll kick sand in the eyes of Brits and Americans. It’s only a matter of time before China nixes the West. Where better than half way — up the junction of the Suez Canal and the Med?

Beware the presidential candidate that adapts Vladimir Putin’s United Russia slogan to United Egypt.

Aesop the fable maker coined the phrase united we stand divided we fall. His fate after slipping the slave’s yoke? To be thrown off a cliff, sentenced to death on trumped-up charges.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Reconciliation the path to Egypt peace


 International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

April 12 2012

Philip Whitfield



CAIRO: Rattled, the Muslim Brothers packed parliament to amend a law that would ban former regime figures from running after Omar Suleiman threw his hat into the ring. That’ll get tossed into the courts, unlikely to see the light of day again.


Suleiman is the Brothers’ nemesis. The intelligence chief rose to become Mubarak’s consigliere after foiling an Islamist ambush in Ethiopia in 1995. Against advice he insisted the president travel in an armored limo, escaping a hail of bullets unscathed.


A general amnesty for political crimes would stop the door revolving at Tora prison. That’s the way in South America. El Salvador and Brazil were famous for it. Others include Argentina, Chile, Ghana, Kenya and Morocco, the Philippines, South Korea and East Timor.


Canada and the US have amnesty laws in force. The UK’s stiff upper lip abhors amnesties. Syria’s butcher Assad says an amnesty is OK though his promises are shorter than a kanafeh piecrust.


In Argentina and Chile generals insist the price for ending military rule is full impunity for their crimes. Mandates are shaped to let them off. Another bone of contention is the relationship between truth commissions and the judiciary, who hate their prosecutorial rights being trampled.


How to reconcile Egypt’s bloodletters is a significant issue for the presidential debate. It’s better to know before voting how each candidate would treat adversaries. If Egypt is to be exposed to an African-style reign of revenge let’s be hearing it now. If the next president wants to embark with a flock of doves let’s be knowing it.


South Africa’s successful transition was underpinned by promoting national unity and reconciliation under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Public hearings gave victims and perpetrators the opportunity to face each other.


Amnesty was granted to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era so long as the crimes were politically motivated and proportional and there was full disclosure.


There are critics. Some say raking over the coals resurfaces old grudges. People lie to be granted an amnesty, say others. Steve Biko’s family says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission robbed them of justice for their son. His police murderers got off scot-free.


What is clear, however, is that washing its dirty linen in public served South Africa well. South Africa is seen as more tolerant than before, encouraged to stage international events such as the World Cup. Foreign investment in South Africa has reached an all-time high. Their economic growth is envied; though crimes of violence are unabated.


Those issues will be paramount in Egypt in the months ahead. If, as seems probable, the Egyptian pound is devalued, Egypt will want masses of tourists to take advantage of lower prices for them. Manufacturers won’t want a stigma attached to a Made in Egypt label. Happy pricing, though, will not attract buyers if the sellers are ornery.


Young people are expressing a yearning for peace. An Egyptian journalist friend who keeps his ear close to the ground tells me the election might produce a result that reflects this changed attitude. He says the Muslim Brotherhood’s young have lost confidence in their elders, looking to support other candidates.


A point he’s making is Omar Suleiman’s name recognition. The world knows what he stands for. Supporting Suleiman would be a way to demonstrate their forgiveness and elect someone who can hold the hotheads in check.


Another influential member of the professional middle class agrees. Suleiman was born in abject poverty rising through the ranks on ability, he says. We need a strongman to take control, not a wishy-washy politician with unproven government experience.


US general Douglas MacArthur who commanded the allies in the Pacific theater against Japan in World War II, became the effective ruler of Japan from 1945 until 1951, applauded by the Japanese for transforming their society, politics and economics.


Norway has an outstanding record of facilitating peace and reconciliation. Promoting women’s inclusion in peace and security issues is a priority Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre told the Standing Committee on Women in Oslo in November last year. Women should have the same human rights as men in a democracy. Women’s inclusion leads to a more sustainable peace, he said.


Norway’s new strategic plan for women, peace and security in the next three years includes increasing women’s participation and influence in peace building and in peace negotiations — a missing ingredient in Egypt today.


The Center for Justice and Reconciliation in the Netherlands reflects the Dutch government’s ongoing involvement in supporting peace after conflict, particularly in Africa. Justice, they say, must include restorative justice that takes into account social justice, the rule of law and truth telling. The root causes of problems shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.


The state, civil society, victims, religious leaders, institutions and donor countries need to play significant roles working together and reinforcing each other, the Dutch believe. Like the Norwegians they emphasize women’s importance.


Can Egypt stomach advice from abroad? Yes, if it’s offered altruistically.


I believe it’s important to face up to the interdependence of today’s world. The political imbroglio is a natural outcrop of stifled aspirations by a shortsighted ruling clique.


Lesson One is to accept that. Lesson Two is to swap the slogan Egypt is Open for Business for Egypt Loves You. Egypt can’t expect much going cap in hand for loans and new investment unless it demonstrates publicly a willingness to embrace the human rights that are the hallmark of civilized countries.


Offering amnesty in the manner of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, promising to respect human rights and showing a welcoming face to the world are priorities.


Closing ranks, jailing opponents and enacting laws for the benefit of sections of society is a recipe for disaster.


No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism — Winston Churchill.


Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.




Tahrir tumbles and tumbrels

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

April 9 2012

CAIRO: It appears the Salafi Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother did obtain American nationality on October 25, 2006 putting paid to his presidential bid.

Doesn’t the Egyptian Administrative Court’s ruling on Saturday doom the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat Al-Shater too? The judges overturned Field Marshal Tantawi’s restoration of Ayman Nour’s full political rights. Al-Shater relies on Tantawi’s condonation as well. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

It may explain the labyrinthine language used by the Brotherhood. Pulling a rabbit out of the hat. they announced Mohamed Morsi, the Freedom and Justice Party’s chairman, would run as a backup in case Al-Shater is barred: a necessary precaution… in face of attempts to fabricate barriers and hurdles to prevent some presidential candidates from completing the march of national duty, the Brotherhood said.

Intriguing is a flurry of new information emerging about the mountain of cash earmarked for democratic reform that’s been pouring into Egypt. Let’s try to follow the money. Without cash, the candidates don’t stand a ghost of a chance. LE10 million is the most presidential candidates are supposed to spend, LE2 million more if there’s a run-off. A proper media campaign requires at least 10 times that, one campaign manager says.

Apparently LE10 million is soon splurged. Advertisements can soak up LE500,000 a pop. Those billboards on the bridges are costing LE80,00 a month. To recoup, bumper stickers and window posters are on sale for 50 piastres outside mosques.

Legal? Campaigning is not allowed until April 30. So we’re asked to believe what you see is the work of enthusiastic volunteers. Individual donations are restricted to no more than LE 200,000. A loophole in the election law is its silence on company donations. None may come from abroad.

Revisiting the NGO ruckus we find that in the year before Tahrir toppled Mubarak the umbrella organization for the American organizations, the National Endowment for Democracy dug deep into its pockets.

Allen Weinstein, who helped to write the legislation for Ronald Reagan establishing the NED declared: A lot of what we do was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.

The NED doled out $1.5 million in 2009 to promote reform in Egypt and upped it to almost $2.5 million in the 12 months before Mubarak was let go, according to their annual report.  $370,954 went to youth groups for new media and activists.

Post-Mubarak, the NED went into overdrive, opening five new offices in Egypt training and funding the youth movement in Egypt. The amount of cash hasn’t been published yet. On February 26 Al Jazeera reported a former NGO employee’s claim that their personal bank accounts were used to channel money covertly from Washington. She and some colleagues resigned after Sam LaHood ordered them to ship the office files to the US.

You might think the NGO furor had blown over after the US put up $5 million bail for those charged. Heed this. Last week the Obama administration moved to deny a request from Egypt to Interpol to issue a so-called red notice to arrest the NGO workers on trial.

A red notice is serious, according to Douglas McNabb, a Washington-based international criminal lawyer who specializes in extradition law. It’s issued ahead of extradition proceedings, which is open to Egypt to pursue under a treaty signed in 1874 with the US. Those on Interpol’s red notice list would effectively be landlocked, McNabb says, facing arrest if they travel abroad.That opens up a can of worms. If Egypt requests extradition the US would be obliged to arrest the suspects and, ironically, represent Egypt in court.

Why are authorities in Egypt pursuing this issue tenaciously? An attempt to turn the presidential election debate on its head — America working behind the scenes siding with those bent on destabilizing Egypt is xenophobic kindling to fire a mob?

It’s another reason to separate the judiciary from the president, the cabinet and the legislature. Turkey is unique in having a 99 percent dominant Islamic population and a secular government while not operating under Sharia law. Their secular constitution has survived since 1924.

Senegal has given the Mouride Brotherhood, a large Islamic Sufi order, legitimacy in the post-colonial era with a binding social contract between the Muridiyya and the state.

Lest Egypt’s election numbers be forgotten, 27 million of 50 million eligible voters took part in the November parliamentary election. The Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance for Egypt won just over 10 million votes and the Salafi’s Islamist bloc 7.5 million.

Two million voted for NDP offshoots. That’s the tinder for Omar Suileman’s spark. He needs to rally the 9.5 million that didn’t vote for the Brotherhood or the Salafis and hope their internecine scrapping disperses their votes over several candidates.

The issues have come into sharper relief. An opinion poll found 84 percent supporting an Islamic identity for the state but only 27 obsessed with the idea. They’re more concerned with stability, security and economic revival.

You’d think that would play into Suileman’s hand. His entrance flexes the muscles of the Brotherhood and the military, according to Khalid Fahmy a political analyst at the American University in Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s standard-bearer Khairat Al-Shater has tilted towards conservatism to cut the ground from under the Salafis and distance himself from the reformist inclined Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh. Al-Shater says Sharia is his ultimate goal.

Without Abu Ismail out of the race Al-Shater could move towards the pragmatic middle ground, focusing on security and the economy.

To make his mark Suileman needs to catch Amr Mousa, the former foreign minister and Arab League general secretary whose early lead in the opinion polls, most recently identified among Copts as well, suggests he’s the non-Islamist to beat. Conversely their rivalry could damage each other’s chances as much as Islamists at each other’s throats.

The Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies finds the most important issues for Egyptians are security, prices, unemployment, dismantling the former regime’s remnants, and eliminating corruption.

It seems most Egyptians will be relieved to be spared the ignominy of Islamic candidates slandering each other. The presidential vote could split between candidates inexperienced in government and those tarnished by association with a discredited regime.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow — Albert Einstein.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator


BRICs and more tar

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

April 5 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Talking shops or photo ops? Verdant oases of green shoots? Or overblown blooming nuisances? Downtrodden by history’s rapacious greed, the wooed nations are the benighted forlorn — ugly ducks turned swans. Their allure? Growth.

Though not in the top tier, Egypt is on the cusp says Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist credited with creating the BRICs in 2001. South Africa expanded BRICs into BRICS in 2010. Now O’Neill says Egypt shouldn’t think twice about making BRICS into BRICES.

That might surprise anyone reading the papers — 1,570 Egyptian factories shuttered, out of cash, supplies and/or customers — idylls of idling indolence.

The chicken and egg of the Arab Spring is to crack the politics before the economics. Yet we’re anxious to see what the hens lay: feisty pullets pecking precociously, or brooding broilers roosting on rafters of recalcitrance?

If the presidential candidates are to be believed, the answer lies in Egypt’s soil. The well-ploughed furrows of ingrate carpetbaggers aren’t their quest. Agriculture is. The hint of a glint of gelt in the fertile Nile Delta.

As Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa industrialize and politically homogenize with $12 trillion of combined assets and half the world’s population, the chase is on to feed the BRICS; to spar with the quivering United States’ $15 trillion and Europe’s $18 trillion economies.

Egypt can choose to cement new pacts with the BRICS, rely on old reliables or try something new: a contemporary structure incorporating the best of the old with new fitments, such as sun-powered motors and grains that flourish in aridity.

Three keys unlock the conundrum: information, knowledge and wisdom. Egypt has all of them in an abundance of talented young people eager to grasp a challenge.

The lost spirit of Tahrir hankers for a spark to reignite its effervescence. Otherwise Egypt’s zest for liberation will be tarred with the feculent follies that are strangling hope in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Egypt eschews these aberrant insurgencies. Its independent streak is characterized by meekness in the face of adversity, the essence of its pride in its hospitality towards visitors who came in the earliest days to marvel at its majestic monuments. That generosity was flagrantly abused: tomb raiders, enslavers building the Suez Canal, the hypocritical humbugs who hampered building a dam to tame the Nile.

Egypt has not lost its seductiveness. What might it be offered? Cheap and cheerful do-dats? Cars, clothes and castoffs from production lines facing obsolescence?

How many washing machines can a family feed?  Imported spin driers are on sale downtown. Did nobody figure out it takes an hour to dry clothes in one of those and only a jiffy to billow everything bone dry on a washing line stretched across the balcony?

Addressing BRICS leaders in Delhi, Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil says the current economic crisis began in the developed world. It will not be overcome through austerity measures, fiscal consolidations and depreciation of labor. Neither through quantitative easing she described as a monetary tsunami. Growth is the dynamo.

Brazilians’ annual income is $15,000, about the same as a Russian’s — bigger than China’s $5,000, which dwarfs India’s $2,000. Rousseff advocates establishing the BRICS own investment bank to stem the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Organization for Economic Organization and Development (OECD) says BRICS are expanding the global middle class faster than at any time since the Industrial Revolution. The world will go from being mostly poor to mostly middle class in the next 10 years, according to their research.

Asians will form two thirds of the global middle class, shifting the balance of economic power from the West to the East. India’s middle class will grow by 70 percent within five years to 267 million people, nearly a quarter of its population, according to India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research.

In seven years, China’s 800-million strong middle class has jumped into the driving seat. Instead of buying one General Motors car for every 10 sold in the US China has become GM’s biggest customer.

It’s not surprising to find Egypt tip-toing around the BRICS. Egypt’s location sits it on the fence between the East and the West, dithering which way to hop. Is it better to stay with the Devil you know, or tinker with the Devil you don’t? There’s a downside to both.

Throwing your lot in with the BRICS is to flirt with trading in political freedom for prosperity, the option to ditch corrupt leaders pruned. Egyptians paid handsomely to topple Mubarak and his cronies. Is it worth an iPad or a new outfit for the strictures of servility?

Not in my book. In his, Brink Lindsey, the author of The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture, links America’s post-World War II prosperity with its mind-opening educational opportunities.

And thus we stumble on a way forward for Egypt that could be embraced by all politicians if only they’d pause before prescribing off-the-cuff cure-alls.

The BRICS will exploit Egypt’s low costs and proximity to mega markets to trade goods for profit. Europe and America offer a gift of greater value: the transfer of knowledge. Don’t expect the inscrutable Chinese, the rapscallion Russians or the artful Indians to share secrets. Brazil’s unique ethnic blend of Portuguese, Spanish and Latino homem cordial is a fudge, permitting their elites to plunder — the common good brushed aside.

Britain did it honorably before when Africa’s liberators arose. The UK’s then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan recognized the game was up for British colonialism. He stood before the South African parliament on February 3, 1960 declaring the wind of change was blowing through the continent.

Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact, Macmillan told a surprised audience. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it, SuperMac said. Britain opened up its universities and colleges to a new generation of Africans to be trained to run their independent countries.

Overlooking the tranquil Nile, enjoying the calm after Sunday afternoon’s sandstorm, a UK emissary mused aloud: What should Britain and the West be doing to help Egyptians in their time of need and our time of austerity?

What you hold is a vast repository of knowledge, he’s reminded. How many former colonies has Britain helped on the road to democracy? Share your knowledge with Egypt unreservedly, as Macmillan did. Open the floodgates of learning. Egyptians will burnish that gift — a prize more valuable than gold: the respect wisdom endows.

The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty — James Madison, father of America’s constitution, the fourth president of a nation seeking illusive answers.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

The green-eyed monster

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

April 1 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Egypt’s Islamic politicians couldn’t hold it together. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are sowing seeds of mercurial destiny on a well-trod stage. Despite their protestations, both parties are fielding Delphic, ambiguous ambitious presidential contenders.

SCAF and the Mubarakites must be drooling in their druthers. A week’s a long time in politics, opined Harold Wilson, Britain’s Prime Minister in the 1960s and 70s.

As well might Barack Obama, suddenly reincarnated as discordant religious Republicans knife each other in the back … as well might Nicholas Sarkozy where events in Toulouse wrong-footed his presidential opponents … as well might maverick UK MP George Galloway famed for tomfoolery on the Celebrity Big Brother reality TV show. Galloway came from nowhere to slay the David, Cameron and gangling Goliath, Ed Millibrand in a crushing by-election victory on Friday.

Shakespeare said it first and best: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on. Or more aptly put by the Irish rebel poet and playwright Brendan Behan (1923 –1964): The first item on the revolutionaries’ agenda is the split.

While jousting quotes, an apt one popped out of the files: When we say we will not endorse or support any candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood, even former members, we are still steadfast in our position — Khayrat Al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s millionaire strong man denying on February 28 they’d be fielding a presidential candidate. Let alone himself.

Yesterday Al-Shater threw his own hat in the ring. A few weeks ago the 62-year-old de facto leader of the Muslim Brotherhood expelled a fellow Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh for doing just that. Cunning as a fox, Al-Shater said he was resigning his membership.

Who set the cat among the pigeons?

Tens of thousands of adoring fans of the former Muslim Brotherhood preacher, ultra-conservative Salafi, Hazem Salah Abou Ismail.

He barnstormed Cairo’s cheering crowds thronging the streets from Dokki to Heliopolis on Friday, bringing four lanes of Salah Salem traffic to a standstill for hours. Needing only 30,000 signatures he presented no less than 150,000 powers of attorney endorsing his candidacy for President of Egypt.

Jamal Abdul Jawad, political science professor at the American University of Cairo thinks the Muslim Brotherhood are on the run. Interviewed on Saturday he said the Muslim Brotherhood is struggling to maintain and build on the political gains in the revolution’s wake.

After categorically stating they wouldn’t field a presidential candidate Jawad thinks they’ve lost credibility by reversing course amid the lack of any tangible progress in the country’s general malaise.

Dr. Omar Ashour, director of the Middle East Politics Graduate Studies program at Exeter University says the Muslim Brotherhood harbors hawks and doves. The hawks are behind a no-confidence vote against the Government, want the constitution panel unchanged and now a presidential candidate they can call their own.

The doves have been routed. They wanted to withdraw some of the Islamists from the panel to write the new constitution and replace them with experts and neutral figures, says Ashour.

Tuesday’s rapturous reception for Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail at Cairo University has rattled the Brotherhood. Tens of thousands of young people turned out on Cairo University’s campus to hear the smooth-tongued Salafi cleric who doesn’t disguise his contempt for the US and Israel and what he sees as Mubarak-style appeasement.

Reports from sources close to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership say their own young supporters are drifting away in droves, favoring Abu-Ismail’s fiery anti-SCAF speeches.

He doesn’t mince his word. Abu-Ismail’s economic platform envisages greater emphasis on agriculture and less dependence on Suez Canal revenues and tourism, which he believes should reign in alcohol, bikinis and mixed bathing.

The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to have it all wrapped up until a few days ago. With the best showing in the parliamentary elections they deserved every chance to demonstrate their oft-repeated pragmatic approach was worth following.

Then they blew it.

They congealed in complacency, believing they had won the right to negotiate with SCAF on behalf of the nation — to featherbed their future in secretive backroom deals. Typical was Al-Shater’s formidable influence.

Known as The Engineer, the multi-millionaire boss of a vast business empire runs a camarilla within the Muslim Brotherhood’s organization that mirrors his nemesis, Gamal Mubarak who’s ironically banged up in the same Tora prison Al-Shater walked free from last March. Field Marshall Tantawi absolved him from a 7-year stretch for alleged money laundering offenses, citing ‘health reasons.’

Some lawyers claim he remains a felon barred from running for office until the full term of his tariff is completed, unless he’s pardoned, which is within the gift of Field Marshall Tantawi.


Just as moderate Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland set aside their theological differences in a search for peaceful coexistence it seemed diverse groups were trying tentatively to bury the hatchet to give tolerance a chance in Egypt.

But just as egoism proved epizootic in Ireland the disease demonizes democrats in Egypt. The Irish compromisers were laid low by arrogant misplaced egoism. The fuddy-duddies in the Unionist party, the social democrats and the liberals withered on the vine.

Between 1969 and 2001, 3,526 Northern Irish lives were lost in a population less than 3 percent of the size of Egypt’s. In the end the militants were given the concessions they craved and took power.

I recall vividly listening to the hopes and aspirations of those who set out to introduce justice and fairness into Northern Ireland. At the time they were as genuine as the vast majority of Egyptians are today. They wanted to rout out corruption and to eliminate the scourge of religious bigotry. Power hungry unscrupulous megalomaniacs hijacked their dream and cynically consigned two generations to mortification.

Their grandchildren bear the brunt as the residual impact of an endemic violent streak in their society wreaks its revenge. Last Friday, as occurs quite frequently nowadays, two young gunmen were jailed for murdering a policeman.

Man is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight — Mark Twain.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.